Tahoe Skiing Pioneer

Passing Date: 
Friday, January 2, 2015

Fraser “Poke” West died January 2, 2015, at age 96.

Born March 1, 1918, Fraser West grew up in Reno, and passed up an appointment to West Point to focus on agriculture, skiing and rodeo roping. He enrolled at the University of Nevada as an Agriculture and Animal Husbandry major, while competing in rodeos and ski racing. In 1939 he was a member of the undefeated University of Nevada ski team coached by Wayne Poulsen, who had graduated the year before.

Fraser was a strong four-event skier and a great motivator for the team. Lean, mean, and nearly six feet tall, Poke often heckled his opponents during practice runs. He was a tough hombre who became team captain in 1940. West was among those who helped Poulsen install Nevada’s first rope tow at Galena Creek on the lower slopes of Mt. Rose, where Fraser once made a record 50 jumps in one day.

After graduation, Fraser signed up for Marine Officer Candidate School. He completed training at Quantico, Virginia, in February 1941, despite a skiing accident at Stowe, Vermont, which left him with several broken vertebrae. He fought at Guadalcanal and, during the 1944 invasion of Guam, took a bullet through his left femur. He earned the Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a nine-month hospital stay.

While recovering in Nevada, West married Teddy, a union that would produce four children and last nearly 70 years. When Squaw Valley opened in November 1949, he headed up the first ski patrols and taught avalanche control on the mountain. During the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, he helped organize soldiers to foot pack the slopes due to heavy snowfall just before the start of the Games.

During his 24-year career with the Marines, Fraser built five rodeo arenas and organized many competitions among the servicemen. His career goal was to reach the rank of General, but in 1964 a transfer to Virginia meant moving his family to a segregated school district. Unwilling to do that, West resigned from the military. Thereafter, West twice earned the Military Rodeo Cowboys Association’s title of World Champion Team Roper.

Fraser became the Executive Director of the Far West Ski Association and in 1968 the Mountain Manager for Squaw Valley where he chaired the 1969 World Cup races. He helped develop Boreal Ridge ski area and reluctantly gave up competitive skiing at age 75. He finally hung up the boards for good at 84.

Fraser West was a longtime member of the U.S. Ski Association and the International Ski Federation, and was a recipient of the Hans Georg Award for long-term positive impact on the sport of skiing. In 1994 he received the USSA’s highest honor, the Julius Blegen Award, for prolonged and outstanding service to the sport. --Mark McLaughlin

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